March 27, 2010: Well... I really wanted this to be fluff. Really wanted this to be fluff. I'm not sure it ever quite got there... but it tried once or twice. Does that count? Not exactly angst, not exactly fluff... somewhere in the middle. But I like it. ^_^ Hope you do, too?

Warnings: Slash, though not who you might think. Mention of threesomes... also not who you might think. ^_^ *eg*

Disclaimer: Neither the musical nor the boys belong to me, if they did they'd be groping each other on sta--. *pause* *blinkblink* Huh. Look at that... they do. *eg* :D ((*coughs* For the record, "Hair" was written by James Rado and Gerome Ragni with music by Galt MacDermot.))

Manchester, England
by Renee-chan

Today had been, without question, the worst day of his life to date. His parents had finally found out that he'd dropped out of school. And of all the stupid things, it was his report card that had done him in... or rather his lack thereof. He'd forgotten that it was time for that quarterly report to be sent home. His father hadn't. These things usually arrived like clockwork and his father had noted its absence. He'd waited until this cold Friday evening to call him on it and Claude had had no answer to give the man except the truth. It had sparked off an argument that ended with him fleeing their house in Flushing without even stopping to grab his coat or his wallet.

Hunching in on himself against the suddenly chill wind, all he could think was, I wish to fuck it would rain at least. That way he could be thoroughly, completely miserable in every way, not just the limited few he was already enjoying. And it would match his mood. Maybe he'd get sick and wind up dying of pneumonia. He almost thought that his father would deserve it for how he'd reacted... but he wasn't that callous and he wasn't stupid. He knew that dropping out hadn't been the smartest choice -- he hadn't needed his father to tell him that -- but he couldn't have been who he was and done anything else. The guidance counselors were starting to talk about colleges and majors and "what you want to do with your life." And Claude... he didn't know. He knew what his teachers expected. He knew what his father expected. He knew what his mother expected. The thought of all those expectations weighing down on him made him feel as though he was suffocating. It made him want to just disappear into the air like smoke... just float away and never return.

But, damn it, he couldn't explain that to his parents in any way that made sense to them! The thought of living the life that his father had laid out for him in the cradle... it made him feel dead inside. It choked off his breath and left him gasping. It made him feel like he was screaming for help in a vacuum... so no one could hear him. His father didn't understand. His father couldn't understand. And the more he'd tried to explain, the angrier the man had gotten. Unable to stand one more minute in that house with him, Claude had finally stormed out, uncaring where he would end up.

He'd jumped the subway turnstile and caught the next one to stop at that station. He didn't know where it was going and he almost didn't care. He had thrown himself down onto one of the benches and slouched down. He rode that subway car for hours... back and forth... west and east and back west again. He couldn't even gather the energy to ask what subway line he was on.

Several hours later, the conductor stopped next to him and irritably shook his shoulder, "Last stop, kid. Everybody off. Find somewhere else to sleep."

Claude picked himself up off the bench and stumbled off the subway. With this station looking like every other subway station he'd ever seen, he had absolutely no idea where he was. He knew he needed to find out, but he was too embarrassed to ask. His eyes darted around the platform looking for the station name and instead spotted a poster for the new television show "The Monkees". That certainly wasn't helpful in figuring out his location... but it gave him an idea to help him save a little face when he asked the conductor. Turning back to the older man, he pulled on the best British accent he could and asked, "Excuse me, mate, but I've gotten meself a mite turned 'round. Could ye help a fellow out?"

Eyes narrowed suspiciously, the conductor stepped closer, "You're new in town, then?"

Claude smiled as brightly as he could and gave the man an expansive shrug, "Aye, just came over from Manchester. Yer city's a wee bit confusing. I'm tryin' te get back te me hotel in Queens."

The man snorted, "Boy, did you take a wrong turn, buddy. This isn't Queens, it's Manhattan. This is the Times Square station."

Mumbling a "thank you" and silently cursing himself for not paying better attention, Claude made his way out of the subway tunnels. If it was late enough that the Queens line wasn't running, it might be morning before he could catch a subway back home. What was he supposed to do with himself alone in the city all night?

Finally reaching street level, Claude picked a likely looking direction and started walking. At least if he kept moving, he'd stay warm. He hadn't gone more than half a block when he paused, senses on alert. He had the oddest feeling, like he was being followed. Muttering another curse under his breath he started off at a faster clip. Many blocks and several direction changes later, he was forced to conclude that he hadn't lost his pursuer. Moreover... it almost seemed like he was being chased somewhere. Probably to someplace where he and his buddies can corner me and steal every last penny that I don't have... Seeing an arched gate in front of him, and praying he wasn't making a terrible mistake, he ducked into the park. Maybe he could lose him in there.

Watching the blonde boy dart into Central Park, his pursuer couldn't help but smile. It had almost been fun, seeing if he could herd the other boy in the direction he wanted him to go. If you'd asked him, he couldn't have said why it was so important to get the boy into the Park... he just knew it was. There had been something about the other boy, something of import. He was lost now, but when he found his way... he'd help them all find theirs. Maybe not now, maybe not this year, but someday... the other boy was the key to something big. He couldn't see all the pieces yet, but he could see enough to know that. And this... this was the first step. Looking up at the full moon, he tilted his head back and let out a soft, lilting howl. His tribe would find their newest member and the pieces would fall into place. Somehow, they would. Somehow, they always did. Smiling softly, he melted into the Park after the other boy.

Sheila let out a startled yip at the hand that darted out of the shadows to caress the curve of her backside. Reaching back without even looking, she smacked at the hand. An equally startled yelp answered that action and the owner of the hand crept out of the bushes to give her a hurt look. Really... he should know better by now. Sheila didn't react well to unexpectedness. It made her wonder, not for the first time, what had drawn her to the younger man to start with... because George Berger was nothing if not full of surprises.

Lifting an arm, she let Berger snuggle up against her, his eyes filled with silent apology. She couldn't stay mad at him when he looked at her like that. She tried, really she did... she just couldn't do it. Leaning down, she let her hair fall around them like a curtain as she pressed a gentle kiss to the boy's lips. It didn't stay gentle for long. Before she could even register what was happening, Berger had their positions reversed and was pursuing that kiss with single-minded intensity. She'd have protested, but really... Berger could set a stone on fire when he set his mind to it. And Sheila was no stone.

A quiet "harumph" from somewhere above them eventually caused them to break things off -- just when they were getting interesting, too. At least Woof had the decency to look embarrassed about it. Berger raised his head and gave the other boy an irritated look. When no explanation was forthcoming, Berger finally huffed out, "Well, what is it? We're a little busy at the moment..."

Sheila let her head thunk back against the ground. That could have been handled more tactfully. Then again, tact wasn't exactly Berger's middle name. Pushing the younger boy off her, Sheila sat up and dusted herself off. As she climbed to her feet, she caught one of Woof's hands in her own, "Don't mind him, Woof. He's just cranky because he thought he was getting some tonight." Ignoring Berger's indignant squawk as he wrapped himself sullenly around her legs, she continued, "Is everything all right? You look a little off..."

Woof's gaze darted away, then darted back. Sheila kept her sigh purely internal. Between Berger's mild insanity, Jeanie's karmic mumbo-jumbo and Woof's sheer strangeness, she didn't know which was worse. Not for the first time, she wondered how she'd ended up among these people. She'd been so normal once upon a time... Shaking those thoughts from her head, Sheila refocused on the lanky man in front of her. Just like with Berger, she had to be patient with Woof or he'd run off and never tell her what he'd come to tell her. She gently stroked his hand and waited for him to settle enough to tell her what was wrong.

Eventually Woof lifted his gaze to meet hers. Once he did, his hazel eyes locked on hers with an almost ferocity. He said firmly, "We have to go to the Park entrance. There's someone there that we all need to meet."

Seeing Berger finally rise to his feet beside her when Woof made this pronouncement, Sheila couldn't hold back the sigh. It was to be one of those sorts of games tonight, was it? Woof was strange, she couldn't deny that, but the other members of the Tribe all thought he was some sort of psychic because of it. And they treated these cryptic announcements of his with all the fervor of a tribe of old listening to their shaman. Sheila wasn't sure she bought into it. Sure, the other man had some impressive insights... but paranormal senses? No sane person believed in that nonsense. Still, Berger wouldn't be able to be persuaded to ignore it and he would tell everyone else. Better to play along so she could try to keep control of whatever they were going to do to this poor person when they all eventually met, "Who is it that we have to meet, Woof?"

His eyes gained a touch of uncertainty, "I don't know his name. In the subway station he said he was from Manchester... but I don't think he is. It's just... he's important." Irritation filled his gaze at Sheila's obvious doubt. They'd butted heads over these weird pronouncements of his before and he was clearly leery of provoking another confrontation.

Before things could get heated, Berger stepped in. His voice was calm, for once, and his words final, "If Woof says there's someone that we all need to meet, we'll go meet him, Sheila. You know that." Putting a hand on Woof's shoulder, he turned on his high-wattage smile, "So where is this chap, eh?"

Woof turned a relieved gaze on Berger, his eyes full of hero worship, "I herded him into the Park, but I left him at the entrance so I could come find you. I'm not sure where he went, but I'm sure if we work together, we'll find him."

Green eyes brightened at the thought of the great game this could turn into. Sensing the excitement in their leader, the rest of the Tribe started melting out of the background to join them and the story spread. Woof had brought someone to the Tribe. And on this clear night with the full moon riding high, Berger was going to organize a hunt to track him down. Finally fully resigned to whatever shenanigans the Tribe was going to pull tonight, Sheila stepped back and let Berger take the reins. In the end, this was his party... she was just along for the ride.

Berger motioned them all in closer, his grin widening and turning wicked, "OK, everyone... here's what we're going to do..."

Claude jumped as yet another branch rustled in the darkness. It had gotten to the point where he was darting at shadows and creatures he imagined were lurking in the bushes in the dark. Coming into Central Park after midnight had not been the brightest idea, no matter who had been chasing him through the city. At this point, he was almost ready to flee the park and walk home... except he'd gotten so turned around that he knew he'd never even find his way back out of the park, much less all the way back to Queens. He grabbed fistfuls of his hair in irritation and gave them a sharp tug, muttering, "Come on, Claude. You were a Boy Scout for a year or two... what the hell do you do when you're lost in the wilderness? Make a fire? Look for moss? Think, Bukowski. There has to be something."

Just when he was finally starting to get himself calmed down and figure out what to do... a twig snapped behind him. He whirled to face the direction of the sound, certain that whatever made it couldn't possibly mean him any good. There was nothing there. Another twig snapped behind him. He whirled back in that direction... and again saw nothing. His heart sped up and started pounding, That's it... I'm going to die. There are wolves loose in this park and they're going to eat me... and I'm going to die. A branch rustled off to his left and that was all it took. Claude was off and running. He didn't even care where he ended up anymore, just as long as it was away from here.

He'd been running for just a few minutes when he tripped over an inconveniently placed tree root and went sprawling on the ground. His breath caught on a scared sob as he gathered his feet back under him and tried to calm his racing heart. This was no good. He knew it wasn't any good. He had to calm down. If he didn't, he wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell of escaping whatever was chasing him. He almost managed to convince himself of that fact... and that was when he heard the laughter. It was wild, uncontrolled... not quite sane. And it was coming from right behind him. He lurched to his feet and took off at another dead run.

Now the laughter was coming from all around him -- male, female, wild, gentle... and that was when he lost it completely. There was more than one person after him. One person he had a chance of outrunning, but as many as it sounded like were after him? Oh no. Not a chance. He wasn't in that great shape to begin with and he was already winded and bruised. But that wasn't going to stop him from trying.

Finding an extra ounce of strength somewhere inside him, Claude ran faster. As he just narrowly avoided running into a stand of bushes, he started to feel things reaching out to grab at his clothes. His logical mind insisted that he was getting caught on the branches he was running by, but the part of him that was so far gone in terror as to ignore all logic was sure that there were people sitting in those bushes reaching out to grab at him as he ran past.

As the last grasping limb caught his entire arm, not just his sleeve, Claude went tumbling to the ground again, this time landing flat on his back with the wind knocked out of him. He lay there for what felt like hours, desperately counting his heartbeats as he gasped for air. He almost didn't notice, being so focused on trying to get air into his lungs, that the clearing around him had gone silent when he fell. No more rustling, no more laughter, no more grasping hands... just silence. Eventually, he was able to get in a breath, then two, then slowly, painfully was able to get to his feet. Shaking in pain, fear and no little anger, he yelled out into the night, "What do you want from me??"

Claude was staring so intently out into the night that he didn't even hear the dark-haired stranger approach until he was literally right on top of him. When he finally did notice the man practically breathing in his ear, he snapped around to face him. The most startling pair of jade green eyes he'd ever seen smiled insolently into his and the other man leaned forward to place a small kiss on his nose. Claude's mouth dropped open. The other man just smirked, tilted his head to the side and said, "Tag! You're it!" then raced off into the underbrush.

Claude couldn't even think about logic at this point, couldn't even think about the fear still swirling in his gut, couldnt even think about the curiosity now burning inside him... he only had room for the growing need to pay the other man back in kind for what he'd just put him through. With an angry yell, he went tearing off after him, the fire of vengeance in his eyes.

Berger couldn't help but laugh as he continued barreling his way through the bushes back to the Tribe's meeting ground. Not that Woof was ever wrong, but it still delighted him when the man was so completely right. This other boy, whoever he was... he was intoxicating. His reactions were so fresh, so untainted... so pure. And he was beautiful. From his honey-blonde hair to his deep, brown eyes... from the sweep of his cheekbones to the luscious curve of his lips. Not to mention a body that would make the gods weep. Hell, he even smelled good. Berger was a connoisseur of beauty. He practically collected it for his Tribe -- the regally dark good looks of Dionne, the pale winter flower that was Sheila, Crissy, his innocent little daisy... and let's not forget the rich dark chocolate of Hud and the long, lean wildness that was Woof. And now... now there was this boy. And, oh... Berger wanted him.

Hearing said boy crash through the brush just behind him, Berger smiled and put on just enough of a burst of speed to keep the chase interesting, but not enough to really wear the other boy out. He'd taken a couple of hard spills in the chase earlier and Berger certainly didn't want him to get hurt. Not really hurt.

Once he reached the middle of the clearing, Berger slowed his mad run and let the other boy catch up. Once he did and they were face to face again across the clearing, Berger smiled and bowed. The other paused, a perplexed look coming to rest on his face as he tried to understand what was happening. Every time he took a step closer, Berger would take a step back. They continued playing this gentle game of keep away for the next few minutes until, unnoticed by the other boy, the rest of the Tribe started filing into the clearing in a circle around them.

Eventually, the other did notice that they were no longer alone and froze where he stood, body slightly trembling. He brought his arms up and wrapped them around himself, then with a quiet whimper, said, "If it's money you want... I'm afraid I don't have any. So... would you please just let me go?"

Dionne let out an unladylike snort as she stepped forward, "Doesn't sound like he's from across the great Atlantic to me, Woof. You sure you heard right?"

Woof had taken up a place behind Berger from which he could see, but couldn't easily be seen. It was one of his favorite places to hide, in Berger's shadow. He shrank back from Dionne's taunting and just shrugged. Crissy reached out a hand to hold Woof's and frowned at Dionne, "Woof said that he heard him say he was from Manchester... not that he was from Manchester. Don't pick on him!"

The poor boy in the center of their circle was looking more confused with each passing minute. Naturally, it was Sheila who stepped in on his behalf. Seeing her stately grace approaching him, watching her long blonde hair slowly tossing around in the breeze, he seemed to calm. Sheila had that effect on people. Somehow, with her around you just knew your were safe... taken care of. When she reached him, she held out one slim hand and smiled up into his eyes, "Please, ignore them. They don't mean any harm... they just don't realize that not everyone finds their games funny. My name is Sheila Franklin. Can I ask yours?"

There was such honest sincerity in her ice blue gaze that stronger hearts than this boy's had melted before it. He proved to be no exception. Extending a hand to grasp hers and gently shake it, he offered a hesitant smile, "Claude Bukowski. It's... a pleasure."

Jeanie couldn't contain herself any longer and laughed outright at that, "I'll just bet it is! From the look on your face, it's as much of a pleasure as crawling over hot coals and broken glass!"

Claude winced as he started shivering again. Anger once again getting the better of fear, he turned towards Berger and demanded, "And who the hell are you people?"

Oh... he was fun. Berger felt a small shiver of anticipation as brown eyes locked with green. There was something almost electric in the air between them, a force of some kind -- like the attraction between positive and negative -- pulling them together. It made his entire being thrill to the charge around them until he almost couldn't contain it. Woof had been so very right. This boy belonged to them. He was a missing piece to the great puzzle that was the Tribe. And when he finally snapped into place, they would be whole, complete... and much stronger for it. Sheila didn't see it yet, but she would... in time. He would just have to be patient until then. Stepping up to join the pair in the center of the circle, he extended his own hand, "George Berger... just don't call me George, OK, man? Just 'Berger' will get the job done."

A voice piped up from his left, "So will Banana-Berger!"

Answering from the other side of the circle was Jeanie's voice, "Or Karma-Berger!"

Crissy giggled in response, "Or Unzipped-Berger!"

Dionne jumped in on the action next, "How about Pull-'em-Down-Berger?"

Hud snickered, "No, no... it's Take-'em-Off-Berger!"

Waving his hands for silence, Berger smirked, "Nah... it's just Sexy-Berger. Everyone wants a piece of me." Waving his hand around to include the entire circle he said, "As you can see." He then let that hand drop down around Claude's shoulders and walked him gently around to see everyone in the circle, "And this, Claude Bukowski, is my Tribe. What do you think?"

The other boy gaped around at them for a minute, then forcibly pulled himself from Berger's hold, "I think you're all nuts!"

Jeanie laughed as she draped herself over the man next to her, "Yeah... we get that a lot! I don't really know why -- I mean, we're a real friendly bunch." The man she'd draped herself over acknowledged that by pulling her close and merging their mouths together in a more than friendly kiss.

Crissy smiled at him as his eyes passed hers, then walked across the circle to where Angela was waiting with open arms. Folding gently into them, she slid her hands into her girlfriend's shirt while Angela started placing gently nipping kisses down the column of her neck. Crissy turned an eye back towards Claude and giggled softly, "Yeah... we're a real friendly bunch..." Several others around the circle took that as their cue to start finding their own partners... or other combinations thereof.

Claude's eyes about bugged out at the display and his face flushed hotly, "You... but you..." Finally, he exploded with, "You can't just have sex in the middle of Central Park!"

Eyes dancing, Berger pressed himself up against the other boy, "You a virgin, Claude?" At the angry flash in the taller boy's eyes, Berger let out a small chuckle and pressed closer, "OK... 'no' it is, then. I'm guessing you're a traditional, girl-only kind of man, then." Waving a hand behind him, Berger caught Jeanie's attention. She was interested, he'd seen that before, and she'd be a good introduction. Gentle, very Earth-mother... she would know what to do to not scare their newest addition away before he could become their newest addition.

As Jeanie approached, Claude frantically tried to extricate himself from the situation, "No, no, no. I'm not... no." At Berger's puzzled look, he exploded again, "It just doesn't work like this!" When Jeanie joined them, her look just as perplexed as Berger's, he tried to explain, "You don't give people heart attacks by chasing them around the park, then invite them into a tribal orgy and expect them to just say, 'Sure, why the hell not?' We've only just met and it just doesn't work that way!"

Berger and Jeanie looked at each other for a minute, equally confused looks on both their faces. Jeanie was the one who said it, "Well... why not?"

Claude's mouth dropped open again, "I don't know why. It just doesn't!"

Again it was Sheila who stepped in to calm the situation, "Claude... why were you here to begin with? You're not a lost British tourist trying to get back to his hotel, that much is pretty clear... so what's the truth?"

Claude shifted his gaze away, then spoke quietly, almost to himself, "I had a fight with my parents." That drew everyone's attention back to the center of the circle. If the Tribe was anything, it was supportive, and most of them had had their own share of fights with their parents. And many of those fights had also been the force that drove them into each other's comforting arms. Claude swallowed hard, then continued, "I dropped out of school a couple of months ago. They just found out. Explaining it... didn't go so well."

Sheila frowned, "Why did you drop out of school, Claude? Don't you know how dangerous that is these days? You could get drafted."

He was closing himself off, Berger could see it. Unfortunately... sometimes Sheila had this effect, too. Berger knew that all too well. This was probably exactly how Claude's argument with his parents had started. And Berger didn't want Sheila to spark off another one that would have the boy fleeing them before he had a chance to see how well he was going to fit. So, he did the only thing he could do... he jumped in with an explanation of his own, somehow knowing that Claude's reasons for dropping out of school would mirror Berger's reasons for his own spotty attendance, "Because he couldn't breathe there." The sensation of Claude's eyes snapping onto him was a sizzle straight down his back -- and the feeling wasn't even physical, it was a purely mental connection and it was more intense than anything Berger had ever felt. He turned his eyes to meet Claude's and let his lips relax into a soft smile, "Right, Claudio?"

Those full lips fell into a frown at the nickname, but he nodded and responded in kind. Berger wanted to cheer that he had the nerve to tease right back, "Yeah... that's right, Banana-Berger. All those plans they had for me... They'd plotted out my life from the cradle to the grave before I even had a chance to add my own input. I couldn't see any other way out but this one. Even if I get drafted... even if I die... it'll be my choice. And as scared as I am, at least knowing that I chose this... I can breathe again."

Berger slipped an arm around the taller boy's waist and leaned in to press a gentle kiss to the juncture of his neck and shoulder, "I hear you, Claude. I hear you. We're all here, all together, because we breathe easier around each other. No restrictions except to do no harm, no taboos except to listen when someone says 'No,' and no limitations but your ability to trust. That's what we're about, Claudio. Won't you stay? Be a part of us?"

He could almost see the other boy weighing his options, mentally debating the merits of what Berger offered. Jeanie stepped up to Claude's other side and wrapped her soft arms around his chest, nuzzling herself against him. Looking back and forth from her pliant, willing body to Berger's earnest and open green eyes, Claude finally relaxed and nodded once. Berger's smile bloomed, honest and without edge for once, "Yeah?"

Claude let one arm drop to wrap around Jeanie and pull her close, "Yeah..." Looking around at all the other bright, eager faces, Claude finally smiled. It was brilliant, that smile, and bright like the sun. Berger could feel the warmth of it all the way through him. He knew then that he was hooked. That light... he wanted to stay near it, to warm himself by it forever, if Claude would let him. But, not yet. Claude wasn't ready. But he would be... someday soon.

Berger watched Jeanie and Claude walk off to find a comfortable spot hidden by the bushes and couldn't help but smile. They'd get him over that eventually. Berger had a feeling that it wouldn't take long. He paused to tear his eyes away from the pair long enough to locate Sheila, then smiled gently. Apparently, she'd gotten tired of his distraction and wandered off with Hud and Dionne. Well, that was just fine, because suddenly, he wasn't in the mood for soft and gentle. Tossing a come-hither glance over his shoulder, Berger invited the one still hiding behind him to step up. Woof did, a shy smile on his face as he reached out to take Berger's hand in his. Everyone else's beliefs to the contrary, the taller boy really did prefer women, but like so many of them, he often made an exception for Berger. And tonight... well, he felt like he owed Woof a 'Thank you' of gargantuan proportions. And Berger always paid his debts.


And now for some chibi silliness!

Woof: *satisfied smile* I told you I'd get it there.

R-chan: *happy smiles* You really did. It fought tooth and nail the whole way, though. I gotta say, I'm impressed.

Woof: ^_^ I'm glad.

R-chan: *beams* We'll talk later. *waddles off to bed*

Woof: *pleased smirk* Let it not be said that doing exactly what the author wants doesn't yield positive results.

Claude: *pouts* Suck up.

Woof: *hurt look* I was just trying to help.

Berger: *cuddles Claude, frowns at Woof* Teacher's pet.

Woof: I am not! D: I was just trying to put her in a better mood so she'd stop tormenting you guys!

Claude: *snerts* Suuuuuuuuuure you were. So what was that little tete-a-tete before, then? Hmm? Woof: *blush* I promised not to say.

Berger: *sigh* I get the feeling we'll find out whether we want to or not.

Claude: *slumps* Yeah... I get the feeling you're right.

Jeanie: *still pouting in the corner*

Questions, comments, papaya?

Nuriko: *twitch* And suddenly it's OK to be on three syllables again?

R-chan: *sweatdrop* You're just pissed because I didn't want to work on Chapter 5 of OB.

Nuriko: *pouts* Notthepoint.

R-chan: Oh for the love of... I'm going to bed. O_O